What a rush – both to the head and the bow of the ship when someone called out that there were dolphins! It seemed as if the ship’s stern might lift out of the water such was the body of weight as half the ship’s passengers dashed to see the pod of dolphins as we left Roscoff harbour (only joking, Brittany Ferries Pont-Aven ship is colossal: if it can handle the swells of the Bay of Biscay as it does so well, it can handle anything!).
We watched in awe as about 20 in total frolicked and jumped out of the water around us. It was absolutely amazing! Five minutes later and the show was over and everyone wandered back to what they had been doing amid a flurry of excited chatter, adrenalin rushing through the ship.
Even without this wonderful heartwarming experience we love the Portsmouth/Plymouth to Santander ferry journey, one we’ve been fortunate enough to make a few times in the past 12 months. It’s like a floating hotel with friendly crew and we always meet some fantastic people, usually other young families as we spend a lot of our time hanging out by the soft play children’s area so our two little boys can have their energetic fun.
Before boarding we’d had a rattly ride on Britain’s potholed roads via a lovely New Forest stop in our shiny (washed it again!) Swift Escape 696.
Luckily for us while travelling in England in February, the interior can warm up from -15°C up to 20°C in four hours if need be and maintain the warmth, plus the water system doesn’t freeze either. So whatever the weather we always get fantastic sleeps in it, also surely to do with being outdoors, the peace and fresh air, but also the Duvalay lightweight memory fibre mattresses fitted in all new Swift motorhomes (brought to fame on BBC’s Dragons’ Den when backed by the show’s entrepreneur Hilary Devey).
Long gone are the days of damp and cramped motorhomes. Without exception, anyone we visit who hasn’t seen inside a motorhome for some years is amazed – with complimentary comments ringing in our ears such as it’s more luxurious than their house! And big bonus, children love climbing up on the beds (in our 696 model there’s a ladder to the above-cab double bed as well as bunk beds at the back) and so the vehicle is well deserving of its nickname the “fun bus”!
Back on the ferry, with the motorhome parked up on the lower decks alongside the dozens of other motorhomes, there was also a magician (so amazing that he made half of Debs’ head disappear on the above photo!), a singer and a duo, plus a bit of bingo to entertain passengers on the journey (and the bingo’s a great way to help learn numbers for Daniel!), then after a cosy kip in our cabin we woke up – and it’s always really exciting to see the Spanish mainland, then the city of Santander getting closer. And closer… 🙂
It was raining, as it does frequently here and hence why this northern coast of Spain is known as España Verde (Green Spain). It’s lush, mountainous and stunning.
And the Spanish roads are brilliant! Plus there’s much less traffic than in England. Since the 1980s there’s been a complete turnaround, with the roads in Spain now largely smooth, wide and a pleasure to drive on, while in Britain they’re skinny, potholed and generally atrocious. And Spain adorns its roundabouts wonderfully, nearly every single one of them, making them easy landmarks and art or beautiful nature all in one.
We soon came to mountains with snow-covered peaks, then there were drifts of snow at the roadside. And there were rainbows too.
We decided we had to get a taste of Spain after driving for an hour, and stopped for some of our favourite flavours of Spain: café bombóns and tortilla. Yum, it hit the spot!
Daniel and Darley did their scrapbooks of the trip so far, and Daniel did some writing and reading – and then it was on with our Education By Astonishment road trip. We saw horses and cows and calves and copious caterpillar cocoons in the pine trees. We motored on, listening to our soundtrack of the soaring new album The Race For Space by Public Service Broadcasting and Daniel’s new favourite singer Frank Turner, who’s said he’ll kindly give Daniel a Music lesson before one of his shows, which is very awesome! 🙂
The Spanish scenery and nature is stunning; and we spotted eagles and vineyards and bodegas. As the soil turned red, we gazed ahead at flat top mountains and big black bull hoardings in rocky ridges.
“Do you remember what Spanish for bull is, Daniel?”
“Toro!” came his immediate answer. We hope both boys will learn much Spanish, from being here in Spain as well as from their mummy Debs who grew up in Spain.
A couple of hours later we drove through the misty mountains north of Madrid. Then there were more snowy peaks, this time of the Sierra de Guadarrama range.
To our joy, it was slowly getting warmer from 10 degrees in Santander to four degrees in the mountains around Burgos, but then to 15 degrees in Pico de la Miel (which has the tasty translation of “Honey Peak”) on Madrid’s northern edges. Once more we spotted eagles soaring above the peaks.
We were even back to wearing T-shirts (as Daniel’s arty pic below shows…)!
And the boys’ bikes were back out for the first time since we left Spain to spend six weeks in icy England. We went to the shops and bought some huge juicy Spanish fruit again. Daniel’s not a keen fruit eater in England – but loves it in Spain.
“I only eat Spanish fruit,” he declares at every bite!
The next day we pressed on for Aranjuez (via Madrid, above), which as with the campsite at Pico had been booked through The Camping & Caravanning Club which checks these sites every year to see they’re up to standards.
The tranquil Aranjuez campsite is by the river, and on grounds that used to belong to the palace. From outside our motorhome, we watched boats go by and fed the birds on the river. We even saw a bird in a boat…
The boys rode their bikes again, we played football, and they played on the playground (as all the campsites have) with the dozen Spanish children there – so lovely to see a bustling playground full of smiles and energy and excited chatter. And that was just the grown-ups…
Much to our boys’ delight, there’s a free landtrain leaves the campsite every morning for the palace gardens. The palace and all around Aranjuez is beautiful, the Spanish equal to Hampton Court Palace. And as you can see from the pic below, the Spanish tradition of siesta overwhelmed Darley and he just had to do it there and then in the beautiful palace gardens!
We had lessons in History, Art, Design & Technology as well as Maths (in counting the numerous arches), and all our walking and running around the palace gardens was defintely a decent bit of Physical Exercise.
All in all its sheer size and splendour put it in the factor of wow: an education by astonishment!
So far we’ve driven from our Devon home a distance of about 500 miles in three days. The joys of doing this in our Swift motorhome are clear with a dog and two young boys: we can stop for snacks whenever we want or when we see a stunning view, and loo breaks are met easily (as anyone with young children will know, inevitably as soon as you set off there’ll be the cry of: “I need a wee!” And that’s just the grown-ups…)
The campsites are great fun, we all love meeting our new neighbours and fellow roamers, a friendly bunch who all love the freedom of the road. We’re already feeling the benefits – physically, cerebrally and emotionally – of being outdoors. Just this morning, Daniel said: “When I have a family I’ll do this with them in a motorhome. I’ll phone you and Darley so we can all go travelling together.” It was music to our ears.
Being outdoors helps children grow up, and helps grown-ups be like children again. In a world where increasingly many seem to be generally getting outdoors in nature less this can only be beneficial. Nature teaches us so much; we are part of nature ourselves. Here’s something I wrote on this for Psychologies magazine a few years ago: The Healing Power of Trees. Research has discovered, for instance, that people who just looked at a forest view for 20 minutes had a 13 per cent lower concentration of the stress hormone cortisol.
If you do a spot of roaming we can thoroughly recommend our new toy that is the iBoost (can you spot it in the pic above, while also noticing your stress hormone cortisol lower as you look at the tree…?). This fairly simple system allows you to share a wifi hotspot between multiple devices such as an iPad, smartphone or a number of laptops simultaneously. It uses a powerful active antenna to help with fine tuning of the unit and gives available wifi signals a super strength. For us, for blogging and tweeting and all that social media jazz, it’s bliss. No more losing photographs and words halfway through writing a blog… 🙂
It also allowed us to make our UNICEF donation (with Daniel filling in the details and then hitting the Donate button!) after our palace visit – as we are for every astonishing person, place or thing we specifically visit.
Now we move on to the next astonishment… We hope you stick with us, and that it inspires you to get out there too.